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Marion Meadmore

Marion Meadmore (née Ironquill), OC, Ojibwe-Cree, one of the first Indigenous female lawyers in Canada, newspaper editor, community activist, founder and co-founder of national and Prairie Indigenous organizations (born in 1936 on the Peepeekisis reserve near Balcarres, SK.) She helped create the National Indian Council and co-founded the National Indigenous Council of Elders and the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.

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Autumn Peltier

Autumn Peltier, Anishinaabe water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 27 September 2004 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON). Autumn Peltier is a world-renowned water-rights advocate and a leading global youth environmental activist. In April 2019, Peltier was appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has spoken about the issue of contaminated water on Indigenous reserves in Canada at the United Nations. For her activism, Peltier was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

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Josephine Mandamin

Josephine Henrietta Mandamin, Anishinaabe elder, water-rights advocate, Anishinabek Nation Chief Water Commissioner (born 21 February 1942 in Wiikwemikoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, ON; died 22 February 2019). Mandamin, known as “Grandmother Water Walker” and Biidaasige-ba (“the one who comes with the light”), was a world-renowned water-rights activist. She walked around the Great Lakes from 2003 to 2017 to bring awareness to the problems of water pollution and environmental degradation on the Great Lakes and on Indigenous reserves in Canada. For her activism, Mandamin was awarded the Anishinabek Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) and the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross (2018). Her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, followed in Mandamin’s footsteps, becoming the next generation’s “water warrior.”

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McIvor Case

The McIvor v. Canada case was about gender discrimination in section 6 of the 1985 Indian Act, which deals with Indian status. Sharon McIvor — a woman who regained status rights after the passing of Bill C-31 in 1985 — was not able to pass on those rights to her descendants in the same way that a man with status could. In her case against the federal government, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that section 6 did, in fact, deny McIvor’s equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In response to this case, the federal government introduced new legislation (Bill C-3) in 2011 to counter gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

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Harriet Brooks

Harriet Brooks Pitcher, physicist and nuclear scientist (born 2 July 1876 in Exeter, ON; died 17 April 1933 in Montreal, QC). Harriet Brooks made important contributions to the field of atomic physics. She discovered that one element could change into another element through radioactive decay. Brooks was the first woman to receive a master’s degree from McGill (1901). She is considered the first Canadian female nuclear physicist. Ernest Rutherford referred to her as “the most pre-eminent woman physicist in the department of radioactivity,” next to Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist Marie Curie.

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Women and the Indian Act

The Indian Act has affected Indigenous cultures, systems of governance, societies and ways of life since its enactment in 1867. Gender discrimination in the Act further disadvantaged First Nations women, in particular. Until 1985, women with Indian status who married someone without status lost their status rights. Men, on the other hand, did not lose Indian status in the same way. Even after Bill C-31 reinstated the status rights of many women in 1985, the Act still discriminated against women by privileging male lines of descent. Amendments in 2011 and 2017 sought to fix these issues. In 2019, the federal government brought into force the remaining part of Bill S-3, which is meant to address lingering sex-based inequities in the Indian Act. (See also Indigenous Women’s Issues.)

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Tookoolito

Tookoolito, also known as Hannah and Taqulittuq (born in 1838 near Cumberland Sound, NU; died 31 December 1876 in Groton, Connecticut), Inuk translator and guide to American explorer Charles Francis Hall. Tookoolito and her husband, Ebierbing (traditionally spelt Ipiirvik), were well-known Inuit explorers of the 19th century who significantly contributed to non-Inuit’s knowledge of the North. The Government of Canada has recognized Tookoolito and Ebierbing as National Historic Persons.

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Tina Fontaine

Tina Michelle Fontaine (born 1 January 1999 in Winnipeg, MB; died between 9 and 17 August 2014 in Winnipeg). Tina Fontaine’s murder highlighted systemic problems in Canada’s treatment of Indigenous women and girls and galvanized calls for government reforms in Manitoba’s care of youth. Combined with the acquittal of Fontaine’s accused killer, Raymond Cormier, her death led to demands for a federal inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This resulted in the formation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) on 1 September 2016.

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Eva Aariak

Eva Aariak, politician, second premier of Nunavut (born 10 January 1955 in Arctic Bay, Northwest Territories [now Nunavut]). Eva Aariak has the distinction of being Nunavut’s first female premier, and she has been instrumental in the promotion of Inuit languages in the territory. (See also Inuktitut and Indigenous Languages in Canada.)

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Shawnadithit

Shawnadithit (also known as Nance or Nancy April), the last Beothuk (born circa 1800-6 in what is now NL; died 6 June 1829 in St. John’s, NL). Shawnadithit’s record of Beothuk culture continues to shape modern understandings of her people. In 2007, the federal government announced the unveiling of a Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (See Historic Site) plaque recognizing Shawnadithit’s importance to Canadian history.

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Jennie Smillie

Jennie Smillie Robertson, physician, surgeon and teacher (born 10 February 1878 in Huron County, ON; died 26 February 1981 in Toronto, ON). Smillie is considered the first recorded female surgeon to practise in Ontario. She also performed the first major gynecological surgery in Canada.

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Olivia Poole

Susan Olivia Davis Poole, inventor (born 18 April 1889 in Devils Lake, North Dakota; died 10 October 1975 in Ganges, BC). Olivia Poole was raised on the Ojibwe White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. There, she was inspired by the traditional practice of using a bouncing cradleboard to soothe babies. In 1957, she patented her invention of the baby jumper, under the name Jolly Jumper, making her one of the first Indigenous women in Canada to patent and profit from an invention.

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Onye Nnorom

Onyenyechukwu (Onye) Nnorom, family physician, specialist in public health and preventive medicine (born 27 February 1981 in Montreal, Quebec). Nnorom is the associate director of the residency program in public health and preventive medicine at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She also leads the Black health curriculum at the university’s medical school. Her work addresses the health inequities that racialized and immigrant communities face.

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Ellen Fairclough

Ellen Louks Fairclough, politician (born on 28 January 1905 in Hamilton, Ontario; died 13 November 2004 in Hamilton). A chartered accountant by profession, she became secretary of state and Canada's first woman federal cabinet minister in John Diefenbaker’s 1957 Conservative government. She was instrumental as head of the Department of Citizenship and Immigration in pushing for less racist immigration policies. She also pushed for granting Status Indians the right to vote (see Indigenous Suffrage.)

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Brooke Henderson

Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, golfer (born 10 September 1997 in Smiths Falls, ON). Golf phenom Brooke Henderson has won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Awardas Canada’s best female athlete three times (2015, 2017, 2018), as well as the ESPY Award for best female golfer in 2019. She is the youngest golfer ever to win a professional tournament (at age 14), the youngest ever to win the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship (at 15), and the second youngest female golfer ever to win a major title (at 18). She holds the record for most victories (10) by a Canadian professional golfer on either the PGA or LPGA Tour, beating the previous record of eight held by George Knudson, Sandra Post and Mike Weir. In 2015, she became the first Canadian to win on the LPGA Tour since Lorie Kane in 2001. 

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Margaret Wilson Thompson

Margaret (Peggy) Anne Wilson Thompson, CM, human geneticist (born 7 January 1920 on the Isle of Man, England; died 3 November 2014 in Toronto, ON). Thompson contributed to human genetics through research on a variety of genetic disorders, particularly muscular dystrophy. She also cowrote Genetics in Medicine, a widely used text. While celebrated among her peers for her gifts as a scientist, mentor and teacher, she left a controversial legacy for her participation in eugenics in the early 1960s.